Eyewitness ID Bill Tentatively Passes House

State Rep. Pete Gallego, D-Alpine, during State Affairs Committee Hearing on March 14th, 2011
State Rep. Pete Gallego, D-Alpine, during State Affairs Committee Hearing on March 14th, 2011

A bill to improve how police conduct lineups to solve crimes tentatively passed the Texas House today without opposition.

HB 215, from state Rep. Pete Gallego, D-Alpine, requires law enforcement agencies to develop a written policy that describes the procedure for eyewitness identifications based on credible, academically based research. The bill also instructs Sam Houston State University to create a model policy for departments across the state.

The bill was amended to match language in the Senate's version of the bill, SB 121 by state Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, which unanimously passed that chamber earlier this month.

Some criminal justice reform advocates say the measure isn't strong enough because it doesn't provide for sanctions against departments that don't develop policies, or ban the use of testimony gathered outside of procedure. Under the bill, if a department doesn't adopt a policy or fails to follow it, the defense can inform the jury that evidence was not collected using best practices. 

During the bill's hearing before the House Criminal Justice Committee, experts said the vast majority of the wrongful convictions in the state — there have been 41 exonerations in the last decade — have been based at least partly on erroneous eyewitness identification. In 2008, the Justice Project, a criminal justice reform group, found that only 12 percent of Texas police departments had guidelines for conducting lineups.

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